Syfy Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Martin Landau: 1928–2017

By Phil Plait

Well, damnation. Martin Landau has died.

You might know him for his iconic portrayal of Bela Lugosi in the movie Ed Wood —and you should; it earned him an Oscar, deservedly.

But to me he has been and always will be Commander John Koenig, the hot-headed commander of Moonbase Alpha, leader of the 311 men and women there, making the big decisions after the Moon was accidentally blasted out of Earth orbit on September 13, 1999.

Sound silly? Well, yeah, it is. But it was the plot for the TV show Space:1999, and let me tell you, I loved it when I was a kid. Even after all these years (it aired in the US in the late '70s) I still have a deep fondness for it. To this day it has one of the best and coolest spaceships ever, the Eagle Transporter.

I was a tween/young teen at the time the show aired, and my friend John and I never missed an episode. I liked Star Trek at the time (not as much as I do now, though), and Kirk was something of a male role model for me, as was Spock for my science side. But it was Barry Morse as Professor Victor Bergman who was really my fictional science inspiration, and Landau's Koenig I looked up to.

Looking back at it now, with adult eyes and experience, my opinion of the character is different. I understand now that Koenig's character was somewhat erratically written, with anger guiding his decisions as often as concern over the safety of the base or the desire to explore. Of course, we all of us have conflicting motivations sometimes, don't we?

But when I was a kid, I saw him simply as the hero. Oh, how I loved Koenig's take-charge attitude when things got rough, how fiercely he defended his friends and comrades, how quick he was to boil over when they were threatened! I thought he was the epitome of derring-do.

Times were different then, and I am not the person I was when I was 13. Thank heavens! But still, some of that boy is me, parts of him at least. The love of science and science fiction, of story telling in the depths of the Universe … that lives on in me, as does whatever part of that was guided by Koenig and the rest of the Alphans.

You can read about Landau's other achievements and other roles elsewhere. But for me, every year on September 13thI’ll tip my hat toward the Moon. I'll always wish Moonbase Alpha godspeed, and I'll always remember Martin Landau for a role on a show that shaped my love for space forever.

[Hero image credit: Gerry Anderson Productions]

Read more about: